Back to blogging!
I have to admit it was nice just letting the world pass by and disconnecting for a few days from everything happening back home (albeit people were texting me with events happening from back home because they forgot I was gone), Without further delay, here we go.
BASEBALL HEAVEN - I knew it wouldn't disappoint me, and while the weather didn't really co-operate the way I would have loved it to, Wrigley Field was simply tremendous in what was my first (and hopefully not my last) visit.
When you go to Wrigley, sitting in the bleachers is an absolute must so on Day 1 for my first ever game at the cathedral on the corner of Clark and Addison that is where we sat. For those who don't know, bleacher seating is general seating and the lineup to get in when the gates opened two hours before first pitch.
While having our choice of where to sit, we ended up just to the right of the bottom right corner of that videoboard you see above, It was just fine. Oh yes, like it is at most parks and stadiums, you have some let's just say "interesting" spectators. There were two guys sitting in our row both in their early 20's. They brought their gloves with them (Note: Unless you are a kid or you are sitting in the first three rows where a foul ball can come whizzing at you, leave your glove at home). They both yelled incessantly at Milwaukee center fielder Keon Broxton to toss them a ball. This just in---A) he probably couldn't hear you and B) the attention of Broxton was likely on the young ladies that had gathered many rows below, Once the game started, they had no idea what was happening, but they knew where to get their 8 dollar beers.
There was another fan just below us who constantly kept going by us to get some cold malted beverages as well, but this guy had a reason.
The guy standing in the light blue shirt got on his knee after the 7th inning stretch and proposed to the girl in the red and black shirt. I didn't see the actual proposal, but he apparently had bought her a baseball and had inscribed his proposal on there so that when she turned around he was there on one knee getting ready to do the deed. It was cool to see as was seeing my favourite Cubs--Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant both go yard in a 13-6 stomping of the Brewers.
Walking around the stadium beforehand was magical.. Having watched Cubs games on WGN since the early 80's (which is how I become a Cubs fan), I have seen the park many, many times. I have seen the rooftops, I have seen the shots outside the stadium, etc. etc, but to walk down Addison and all of a sudden see the famed marquee just made me stop in my tracks. I had arrived at baseball heaven. I just had to stand from across the street and gaze at that marquee while many wandered the streets getting ready for an afternoon of baseball. To see the statues of Cubs greats Ron Santo, Ernie Banks and Billy Williams along with the legendary Harry Caray. It was amazing.
As one friend told me in an exchange of e-mails, it must be how Rider fans feel from outside of Saskatchewan when they come here for the first time to see a game whether it be at the new or old Mosaic Stadium. I couldn't agree more.
I also thought as I wandered around the ballpark that the Riders need statues of some of their greatest players. Wouldn't it be cool to walk up to the main gates of Mosaic Stadium and see a statue of Ronnie handing the ball to George, go to another part of the stadium and see a statue of Dave Ridgway kicking the field goal to give the Riders the 1989 Grey Cup, How about Darian Durant holding the 2013 Grey Cup high on that magical November Sunday.
It would enhance the fan experience and the statues would become iconic for Rider fans near and far. Why not? It's just one of many ideas that crawled through my mind while watching the games,
I won't bore you with many pictures, but here are some....
At the Harry Caray statue....
Outside of the famed marquee....
The famed Cubby Bear saloon right across the street which is a gathering place before and after the game and a place where apparently many deals have been finalized and announced including the hiring of current manager Joe Maddon. It was an event where Maddon apparently bought all of those in attendance "a shot and a beer". It is the most popular of many sports bars that line the area, In fact, the area around the ballpark is either A) a bar or B) a sports shop. Yeah, there's a Dunkin Donuts and a Subway near by as well along with a Taco Bell where on game days it costs you 30 dollars to park in their lot and do they ever jam them in,
This is the Park at Wrigley which is brand new as it just opened this year. It is just outside the seats along the third base line. There is a videoboard to watch the game and the post-game press conference, you can go out and mingle, sit on the grass or the many tables with food and beverages on hand and enjoy from this locale. I don't know why you would want to leave your seat in the 4th inning to go outside the park to watch the game and I don't think those without a ticket can get into this area, but many fans were doing so.
A display case featuring many great Cubs of the past including my favourite all-time Cub and the 2nd greatest player to wear "23" in Chicago, Ryne Sandberg. Why is it the hall-of-famers wear 23? Think about it.
Another display case features the Cubs of today where pics of last year's World Series celebration, the National League MVP trophy shared by Jon Lester and Javy Baez and mementos of last year's All-Star game in San Diego are featured.
Standing at the famous seat where Steve Bartman unwittingly became a part of Cubs and baseball history....
On the field just behind home plate.
And finally, a shot with the World Series trophy. I still look back at watching Game 7 against Cleveland and how that emotionally just tore me apart with the highs and lows. I have to admit seeing this brought just as much a lump in the throat to this fan as it was when Brendan Taman brought the Grey Cup to the CKRM studios the day after the 2013 Grey Cup or seeing the Stanley Cup after the Oilers had won it. Now if I could just find a damn way to see the Super Bowl trophy the Seahawks won. I guess putting Jon Ryan's Super Bowl ring on for a few moments will still have to suffice for now.
Wrigley Field is "baseball". Yes, a lot has been done to the park since it opened many years ago, but they have done tremendous things to it and there is no talk of ever tearing it down with a brand new facility being put up. Instead, they do what they have to do and they build around it as construction is being done on a hotel and other things to make the area known as "Wrigleyville" even more profitable for both the neighbourhood that thrives on the team and its fans and the organization,
All in all, it was five days I won't soon forget. The Cubs won 3 of 4...they hit 11 homers including 2 by Bryant, 4 by Rizzo and one by Kyle Schwarber that went right out of the park in right center with none of the 11 resulting in a bat flip as the team won with class. They even used the videoboard to have Harry Caray sing the 7th inning stretch which brought goosebumps---it was either that or the fact it was colder than it should have been in Chicago for mid-May. As I said, I don't know if I will return (although I want to), but it was special being in "baseball heaven". Scratch one item off the bucket list.
SEATTLE SOILS THE LINEN - I didn't watch one second of the Memorial Cup. Had the Regina Pats gotten there, it would have been the same way, but I at least would have been looking at my phone for updates. However, friends were texting me saying how bad the WHL champion Seattle Thunderbirds had been, how they made the league look bad and how the Pats would have fared much better. Would they have? I didn't want to bring this up during the WHL final, but the league needs to look at its scheduling procedures when it comes to the playoffs and get the finals done earlier, Seattle won Game 6 on a Sunday in Regina, flew back home on Monday to fly back across the country on Wednesday seeing media responsibilies meant they had to be in Windsor on Thursday for the tournament that started Friday. That's a tough haul.
It was the same for the Brandon Wheat kings last year even though the Mem Cup was in Red Deer. In the last two years, the WHL champs are 0-6 at the tournament while being outscored 33-8. The other teams are coming in well-rested and the WHL champs are not. Perhaps the league needs to look at moving the entire season up one week so playoffs can get done and its champion team whomever it may be can actually get some rest and refill the tank. Would the Pats have done any better this year? Considering they would have had to play a Game 7 on Tuesday and get on a plane to Windsor the next day, I am guessing the answer is no and that is not a slight on what was a very talented Pats team.
As for the tournament itself, congrats to the host Windsor Spitfires for winning, but are they really the best team in Canada or are they the team that benefitted by being awarded the event. Seattle, Erie and Saint John all earned their ticket by going through the playoff battles winning the 16 games needed to advance. Windsor didn't. I know the scenario could repeat itself next year when the Pats are hosting, but if they were to hoist the trophy after being ousted in round 2 or 3 of the playoffs would it really be because of their talent or their bid committee. I don't know how you do it and some already say the event is too long, but I would still like to see the event expanded with two games per day. Next year, you would have the Pats and the WHL champs joining the two finalists in Quebec and Ontario. When the event is in Quebec, the host team and its champ would join the two finalists from the OHL and the Dub. If the RBC and Telus Cup can have more than 4 teams, can't the Memorial Cup? Maybe an easier way is to have a frozen four like event where you play a one and done semi-final. I don't know how you do it, but there has to be a better way.
IS THERE ANY OPTIMISM? - Riders training camp has arrived. The first of the two-a-days went Sunday morning in Saskatoon. Yes, a new season brings excitement, but is there a lot of excitement amongst the fan base. If there is, it is being enveloped by the negativism of many, Before leaving for the Windy City, one Rider fan told me the brand has taken a beating over the past couple of years and the Pats brand may be the more popular one in Regina at this moment. With all due respect to the Pats, I think that is a stretch, but I would say the gap has narrowed somewhat due to the success of the hockey team and the lack of success from the football team since the midway point of the 2014 season.
There is still a lot of anger out there and it is directed at Chris Jones. The release of Dressler, Chick and Getzlaf, the trade of Durant, the bringing in of Khalif Mitchell, the attempts to bring in Greg Hardy, the Vince Young experiment, One fan told me after the report the team tried to get Michael Vick to come north of the border that Jones had turned the Riders into a circus. With all due respect again, I think that is a stretch as well.
A poll on the 620 CKRM website asked fans where the Riders would finish this year and leading the way at the time of this writing was last at 30 percent. 11 percent do think the team will finish first BTW. Has the fanbase already relegated themselves to another dismal season? I'm not going to sit here and tell you that all the moves that have been made have been right ones, but it seems as if many are writing off the season already and pointing the finger at Jones,. Year 1 was a housecleaning designed to find a new core of leaders and players who could become the stars of tomorrow. Year 2 now has some continuity as some leaders and players emerged from Year 1. As I have said previously on this stage and on the Sportscage, I think the Riders are better, but admittedly I think 3rd is as high as they can get unless BC or Calgary have disaster strike. Are they better than Edmonton or Winnipeg? That is the question I've asked for months.
It just seems to me as if the fanbase has their arrows focused squarely on Jones' back and are not willing to see what can be done. I understand the frustration, and know why it is that way, but let's see what comes out of camp and how the 17 season starts before we start digging the hole to put the coffin in.
We're not the CFL's version of the Cleveland Browns here people!!
STANLEY CUP - How many people had the Nashville Predators playing the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup final? How many in hockey drafts are boasting because they have numerous Predators and Penguins left? If you are one of them, I am guessing you decided to take a stab at some Nashville players late in the proceedings because you needed some points and thought guys like Forsberg, Johansen and Ellis would get 6 or 7 points before being bounced by Chicago.
Nashville has shown again that all you have to do is get into the playoffs to have a legitimate shot at winning. They were the 16th seed going in. Do they have enough to beat the high-flying Penguins. I don't think they do, but this is a team that has knocked off Chicago, St, Louis and Anaheim. I'll say Pittsburgh in 6, but there will be no wagers.
That's all I got. Have a great week!